The Rings of Saturnby W. G. Sebald
Shortlisted for the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Award in Fiction: "Stunning and strange . . . Sebald has done what every writer dreams of doing. . . . The book is like a dream you want to last forever. . . . It glows with the radiance and resilience of the human spirit."—Roberta Silman, The New York Times Book ReviewSee more details below
Shortlisted for the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Award in Fiction: "Stunning and strange . . . Sebald has done what every writer dreams of doing. . . . The book is like a dream you want to last forever. . . . It glows with the radiance and resilience of the human spirit."—Roberta Silman, The New York Times Book Review
In narratives that blend reportage, memoir, art criticism, social chronicle, natural history, fiction, literary essay, personal anecdote and images, W.G. Sebald is literally reinventing the diary as his own genre. Not since Montaigne has an author bound such a breadth of passion, knowledge, experience and observation into such a singular vision.
The author's first book, The Emigrants, fictionally intertwined the lives of four unrelated Holocaust survivors. Occasioned by a walking tour of East Anglia, The Rings of Saturn is a looser book, the diary of a journey that records a series of impossible human strivings. The hubris he chronicles is minute and grand, good and evil, ranging from Roger Casement's futile efforts to stop Belgian exploitation of the Congo to Frederick the Great's quixotic attempt to force the German people to cultivate silkworms. When a church tower jutting up on a beach turns out to be the last vestige of a medieval port that has washed into the sea, the life Sebald breathes into that lost city is as passionate a pastiche of research and fantasy as Heinrich Schliemann might have nurtured during his decades-long search for the mythical Troy. But to step into Sebald's stream of consciousness at any point is to enter the same river twice; for the lost hopes, dreams, ambitions, projects and cities Sebald documents are really excuses to explore one central subject, which is time itself. Sebald views every object in its simultaneous then and now: Inevitably, his labyrinthine excavations -- his dips in reality's river -- are less about the nature of water than about the inexorability of its flow.
Sebald edits images into the text like filmic jump-cuts, sometimes as illustrations, more often as flashes from his own or a collective unconscious. In the middle of a story about a World War II veteran who participated in the liberation of Bergen Belsen -- a man who later left his entire estate to the maid who dined with him in silence for decades -- Sebald startles the reader with a two-page uncaptioned photo of corpses strewn across a forest floor. The reader is left to ponder the image as one Sebald has never forgotten, as one of the few memories so unbearable that it might occasion a man not to speak for decades, and the image is all the more evocative because its relationship to the text is left oblique. The unarticulated connection between words and image elucidates the ways in which we know without knowing we know and remember without memory. Even as he asks us to consider the meaning of minutiae, Sebald forces our peripheral vision into active cognition of the broader picture.
The diary consists of that which Sebald sees, feels, thinks and encounters. Yet the self around which Sebald organizes such disparate subject matter is an empty one. The narrative never sinks into narcissism. Rather, it's as if Sebald allows the landscape and its inhabitants to use his memory and senses. He cares for lost worlds, dreaming like a war nurse caring for casualties she knows will expire. In gathering their personal effects, he revives, at least for a little while, pasts that cannot, or will not, speak for themselves. -- Salon
&151; The New York Times Book Review
The Providence Sunday Journal
The walk starts at the remains of the fairy-tale palace known as Somerleyton Hall, once a Victorian railway king's monument to extravagance. On the nearby coastline are other ruins, from the recently foundered town of Lowestoft (where Joseph Conrad first made landfall in England), a wreck after the Thatcherite bubble burst, to the more spectacular ghost of the once-mighty port of Dunwich, which over several centuries toppled inexorably into the North Sea. Each of the sites prompts stories of Britain's past. A railway bridge, for instance, leads to the story of the odd train that once ran over it and of the train's unlikely connection with the Emperor of China and the silk trade. Turning inland, the trail leads to writer Michael Hamburger (a number of writers, most long dead, figure in the journey), whose story of flight from the Nazis in 1933 resonates with the narrator's own more recent history, and on to a disorienting sandstorm among the remains of a forest uprooted by the freak hurricane of 1987 before turning back to the history of Britain's colonial involvement in the silk trade, which binds many threadsof this trek together. Erudition of this sort is too rare in American fiction, but the hypnotic appeal here has as much to do with Sebald's deft portrait of the subtle, complex relations between individual experience and the rich human firmament that gives it meaning as it does with his remarkable mastery of history.
- New Directions Publishing Corporation
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- 5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)
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